by Gill James
a nice cup of tea and a good book
"What do you know about it, you conniving liar. You make me sick. You and your cronies. What is the country coming to? What is the matter with people today?"
Margaret Cavendish was shouting at her television. She gasped when she realised what she was doing. Nobody could hear her. She was getting like her late father. He would yell for hours at the TV. But he knew that she and her husband Dave were listening. They quite missed his rants actually after he died.
And now, since Dave's death three years ago, she'd lived on her own. She'd thought things at the telly but never actually yelled before. And this "What is this country coming to?" and "What is the matter with people today?" Didn't her old grandmother say that all the time?
"We've had to downgrade the results," said the smarmy-looking official on the TV screen. "Some teachers had vastly overinflated the grades."
"So who knows about children's work? The teachers who have had hours of contact with their students or self-important frauds like you? It's supposed to be criterion-referenced not norm-referenced these days you self-important clown."
Why were they challenging what had become recognised as good practice? That was what they had been told, wasn't it, back when the GCSE exam was introduced? It would be like a driving test. Students would be required to acquire certain skills and certain knowledge and as long as they had all of that they would pass. And so, when she'd been a teacher she had worked out how to teach those skills and that knowledge and she'd got better at teaching them to the point where one year she'd been accused of cheating. There'd been an investigation and she'd been proved innocent - and recognised as a remarkably good teacher to boot.
"You don't know what you're talking about, you ignorant git."
She sighed and pressed the off button on the remote.
It was no good shouting at the television even if it did make her feel a bit better. She would have to think of something more concrete to do.
Thank goodness she was now allowed out again and the libraries were open once more. Yes. Her MP was going to start holding his monthly surgeries at her local library. The first one would be this Saturday. With proper social distancing, naturally. And of course you had to wear a mask and use the hand-sanitiser when you arrived. Everybody had to make an appointment. Well that was good; it would stop her chickening out.
So Saturday morning found her dressed smartly, her face-mask carefully coordinated with her outfit, and sitting properly socially-distanced in a queue. Gosh, he looked a weasel of a man. Good job he was wearing a mask - he'd probably be even uglier without it. She couldn't hear what the man in front was saying but she could see he was angry. And Jonathan Nightly was bright red and sweating. Well, she hadn't voted for him so she needn't feel bad about not liking him.
The man who had been arguing with Jonathan Nightly got up. "I hope you have better luck than me," he muttered at Margaret as he walked smartly out of the building.
"Miss Cavendish?" Jonathan Nightly called.
Margret took a deep breath and walked smartly over to the where the MP was sitting.
He indicated that she should sit down. "How can I be of help today?"
"These exam results. All the young folk have worked so hard. And their teachers. In these circumstances. And you lot are throwing their chances away."
"Well, we have had to moderate. Some teachers were inflating their grades."
"I doubt that was the case. I bet the teachers know their students far better than any of you lot could. And anyway, given these strange times we're living in, does that actually matter? What a lot of senseless work and stress for everyone."
"It's only fair to the others, isn't it, that we make sure weaker students don't get high grades?"
"What do you actually know about it?"
"Well, we have to be guided by the people we've appointed to look into these things."
"And a fat lot they know about it by the looks of it."
"Sorry, I didn't catch that."
"Well I do know a lot, young man. I taught for over thirty years. And we had good systems for making sure the standards were the same across the board. Yet you people just breeze in as if you know all about it."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Miss Cavendish."
"Are you indeed? Well it might be worth you knowing that I didn't vote for you. And I can see now that was a wise choice. A pity some of my neighbours didn't feel the same."
Jonathan Nightly chuckled. "I'm rather glad they did"
She bet he was. "And what about Scotland? They changed overnight. That's not fair on our youngsters, is it?"
The MP shrugged. "Well Scotland is actually quite independent from us really."
"They obviously don't feel as if they are, do they, or they wouldn't have had a referendum about being independent."
Jonathan Nightly blinked then blushed. "Well Miss Cavendish. I'm sure you're not alone in thinking like this. I'll bear your concerns in mind. There's not a lot I can do at the very minute."
Was there not? What was he doing being an MP then?
Margret nodded. "Well, thank you for your time. But this won't be the last you'll hear from me."
She felt so angry that she walked the mile and a half home instead of getting the bus. At least it was downhill.
She was still fuming when she got home. How dare they ruin the lives of these young people? They could appeal? With all the stress and worry that brought on top of the all the anxiety that everybody was feeling at the moment? And how they were disregarding the expertise of these dedicated teachers. She knew that they were dedicated all right. Nobody stayed in the job, did they, unless they were dedicated? It was just too hard, wasn't it?
She made herself a cup of tea and switched on her laptop. Now then, what were they saying on Twitter? #AlevelProtests. That looked promising. Some students were protesting. Good for them. They had her support for sure. Oh and here was a young man - well younger than her at least - who was offering to pay for some students to put in their appeals. Gosh. So you could only appeal if you could afford to? Even more unfair. But she would do the same even so.
"If you're having difficulty finding the financial means to appeal, please contact me. I'll fund the first five youngsters who respond," she typed. There. That made her feel a bit better.
Oh and someone was protesting that an independent girls' school was boasting that their grades had been good? This was inappropriate? Margaret wasn't quite so sure about that. Well, she wouldn't want to take those grades away from the girls. But then again, an independent girls' school? Private school quite likely. Yes, people were suggesting this system was classicist and she was rather afraid she agreed.
Then she saw it. There was to be a demonstration the next day in the city. Yes. She would join that. It would bring back memories. She hadn't been on a demonstration for a good few years now but it might be fun.
Margaret was pleased with the banner she'd made. Oh dear though? What would people think? She hadn't gone too far had she? No. It was all good. These photos of the three very unwise monkeys and her caption "No Etonains were Harmed in the Making of this Alogrithm". Witty or what? What a bit of Eton mess this all was. It was Eton mess after Eton mess with this lot wasn't' it?
She didn't have to wait long for a bus and was able to get on the first one that came even though there were several other people on it, mainly much younger than her, and also carrying banners.
"Thank you Grandma," shouted one of the lads,
"Oi don't you be so cheeky, Frank. Take no notice of him, Miss. He suffers from foot in mouth disease."
"Naw. I'm glad to see one of the oldies joining in."
The girl rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Margaret chuckled. "He doesn't bother me love. I'm just glad to help."
"Good for you." The girl gave her a thumbs up.
The bus was soon full and so didn't stop at the last three stops at the edge of the town. They were there in no time. Already people were amassing on the square. Mainly youngsters of course. But quite a few angry mums and dads and just a few other Boomers. There was a lot of chanting and one or two instances of very choice language but on the whole she was impressed with how everybody was behaving. All of them were wearing masks and all of them were keeping their distance.
And then the chanting began in earnest. "Justice for state schools. What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!" One middle-aged woman stepped on to one of the lamp post surrounds. Her companion blew a bugle he was carrying. Everybody turned to listen. "I'm a headteacher of a local girls' school. Not a private one. A state one and 55% of our results got downgraded. These girls need these grades and those places in university. We need those young women out in our world." There was a lot of cheering and clapping and the chanting began again.
Then Margaret noticed a police officer talking to the young man she'd seen on the bus. What was going on there?
She rolled up her banner and walked over to them.
"Has he put his foot in it again?" Gosh weren't policeman getting young these days. He looked all of seventeen. No that couldn't be right. The young man on the bus must have been at least eighteen and this police officer must be older, surely? She was showing her age again.
The officer ignored her. "Come on then. Empty your pockets."
The young man tutted. "I've got nothing on me. I don't do that no more." He rolled his eyes and turned to Margaret. "He don't believe me. But I've settled down and got on with my A-levels. I want to get to Uni. But this blooming lot are stopping me now." He pushed his arm towards the officer, more as if he was trying to wave him away than touch him but the officer grabbed his arm. "Thomas Collins, I'm arresting you on suspicion ..."
"Surely there's no need for that?" said Margaret. She actually forgot she was still holding her banner and it came down smartly on the officer's head.
"What the.... Madam, I think you'd better come with me." He took out his handcuffs and put them on Margaret.
Thomas Collins was totally forgotten now, it seemed.
Margaret couldn't decide whether this was an even more exciting adventure or whether she should be really worried. Would she have to contact a solicitor? Would she be charged with assault? Would they keep her in a cell for a long time? Would it be terribly uncomfortable there?
At least the officer who'd arrested her was being quite gentle and actually very, very polite.
"Just sit there a moment and my colleague will book you in." He nodded towards a row of occupied seats and a gruff-looking man who smelt of alcohol got up and let her sit down.
The young man at the desk looked up. "Miss Cavendish? What are you doing here?"
Goodness. It was young Billy Stevens. Billy had been one of her star pupils once he'd settled down. He'd been a bit of a rebel for the first three years she'd taught him. "I'm afraid I accidentally dropped my banner on your colleague's head."
"What?" Billy looked at his colleague. "You're not serious are you? Come on Frank. A little old lady like Miss Cavendish?"
Little old lady? She would have to have words with that young man. Or maybe better not. This was actually quite serious. "It was an accident. I didn't mean to hurt you." Margret suddenly felt very tired.
Frank sighed. "It bloomin' did hurt, ma'am."
"Yes, but it was accident, Frank. Come on."
Frank nodded. "It was that Thomas Collins again. I'm sure he'd got some drugs on him. But then she came along and I didn't have the chance to arrest him."
"Really?" said Margaret. "That young man was just there to defend his A-level results as far as I can see. And you were harassing him."
"Miss Cavendish, take care," Billy warned.
Margaret sighed. "Oh all right then." She slumped down into her chair and looked at the floor.
Billy looked at his colleague. "Come on Frank. Drop it can't you? Haven't we got enough to do?"
Frank sighed. He turned to Margaret. "All right, you're free to go. Just behave, right?"
Margret nodded. She gathered up her bag and moved towards the door.
"Don't you want your banner?" called Billy.
"I think I'd better leave it, don't you?" But then she had a wicked thought. "Maybe you could go out with it when you're off duty."
She didn't wait for his reply. She would go straight home now. She'd had her adventure and she'd made her point. Now she would leave it to the youngsters themselves.
But as she made her way out of the police station she was greeted by a bunch of reporters. "What do you say to our government about arresting an old lady at a peaceful protest? What do you think about the A-level debacle? Do you agree with the protesters that the algorithm is classicist?"
Margaret held up her hand to stop them shouting at her. Goodness. It worked. So she'd still got it then. She could still silence a crowd with one small gesture.
"My being arrested was just because of a silly misunderstanding. Not worth bothering your readers - and viewers with." She'd just noticed the TV camera. So, she was going to be on television? Just like that time when she'd walked out on strike the day before Thatcher became prime minister. "But I will tell you this. Those young people deserve better. Those people in the government don't have a clue. People who’ve worked for years at the whiteboard front do. They should listen to their teachers. They know something about education. Jumped up old Etonians who just want to sling mess at each other don't. And given the circumstances we're living in a little kindness would go a long way. Now if you'll excuse me, I must be getting home."
She was glad to get home in the end. That was quite enough excitement for one day. She settled down with a nice cup of tea and a good book. But just before she went to the kitchen to cook some supper she couldn't resist having a look at her social media. Goodness "Margaret Cavendish gets angry" was trending. There was a post from the young girl on the bus. "Not all Boomers are stupid and selfish. Some of them are on our side. Let's hope there are more around like Margaret Cavendish." Well, well, well. Perhaps her getting angry was doing some good. She hoped those young people would be all right.
The next day they did a u-turn about the A-level results. But there was still cause for some shouting. "And are you going to compensate them for the misery your incompetence has caused?" she yelled at the radio when the change of heart was announced. Her father would have been proud of her.